After 25 films and now a handful of interconnected Disney+ shows, Marvel Studios may have made their most ambitious film yet with Eternals. In a film that has the might and scale of an Avengers or Guardians film but somehow more focus on its characters, Chloe Zhao (who is fresh off her Nomadland Oscar win) marks her place in the cinematic universe by sparing action sequences for intimate character moments and truly gigantic, thought-provoking world-building. We’ve gotten hints towards the greater, cosmic side of the MCU before, but Chloe Zhao takes us to places we’ve never been before in a truly visually ravishing way.
The film follows a group of immortal super-humans named the Eternals, who were placed on Earth thousands of years ago by a mysterious force in order to control the evil Deviants. After they defeat the Deviants early on in the film, the group decides to split up and live the lives they were never able to find when serving their higher calling. But after the Deviants pop-up again in modern day after thousands of years, the Eternals assemble once again to fight their enemies and possibly discover what they were truly sent to Earth for in the first place.
Aside from director Chloe Zhao being behind the camera here, a lot of the hype has been with the cast of the film – and it’s easy to understand why! This is easily the most star-studded Marvel film, aside from maybe the Avengers films, with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kit Harrington joining the cast. But its the romance between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) that had me truly compelled. I was also thoroughly impressed by the stories for Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) – two Eternals who long for something deeper despite finding their powers to be curses. While characters like Druig (Barry Keoghan), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) might not have the thematic weight of the other characters – Chloe Zhao does a great job at balancing and developing them all beautifully.
There are certainly moments where it feels like Chloe Zhao bites off a bit more than any film can chew in a running time under three hours, but there is also something really delightful about her ambition and love for this really weird story. I grew up a fan of cosmic Marvel my entire life, so to see a filmmaker try to actually swing for the fences and tell a story that spans lifetimes and galaxies yet focus on themes of love and humanity is extremely admirable to me. It isn’t without some pacing issues and spotty visual effects, but I found Eternals to be a refreshing change of pace for Marvel and one that I’d love to see a sequel for.